The Anatomy of a Snub

In Hollywood, it's the most eagerly awaited wake-up call of the year: Oscar nomination morning.

On Tuesday, "Dreamgirls" was called eight times -- the most nominations of any film this year, including best supporting actor nods for two of its stars, Eddie Murphy and newcomer Jennifer Hudson.

So everyone must have been thrilled over at Paramount, the studio behind "Dreamgirls," right?

Not completely. Two of the biggest nominations eluded the film: no best director nomination for Bill Condon, and, most startling of all, no nod for best picture.

"It's the first time ever that a film with the most nominations did not get a nomination for best picture," said Jill Bernstein, senior editor of Entertainment Weekly.

Now the second-guessing has begun: Was "Dreamgirls" too musical? Or was the whole just not equal to the sum of its parts?

"Nightline" asked major figures from three important film industry constituencies -- a critic, an entertainment editor and a consummate insider -- to examine the decision.

Just Didn't Cut It

One prevailing theory is the simplest: Murphy and Hudson were great, as were the songs and the costumes. The promotional tour was to die for, but the movie itself just wasn't that great.

"'Dreamgirls' was a spectacular pedestal, but the thing that was on it was distinctly mediocre," said David Edelstein, the film critic at New York magazine.

"It was supposed to document this magnificent period and transformation in American culture when African-Americans at last made it into mainstream culture. The music didn't give you any sense of how it possibly could," Edelstein said.

"The academy as a group chose five wonderful films. Maybe it came in No. 6," said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- better known as the Academy in Academy Awards.

Bernstein said that "Dreamgirls" may have been hurt by the nomination scoring system, which awards more points to voters' top choices than to their third or fourth favorite.

"I think a lot of people liked 'Dreamgirls' a lot and maybe they put it No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, maybe No. 2, but not a lot of people put it No. 1. That's probably what hurt it," Bernstein said.

Voting for Posterity

Some movie critics say voters may have an eye on their legacy -- the knowledge that one winning picture, years from now, will provide a snapshot of who we were in the year 2006.

"Hollywood nominates movies that they want to represent them in the wider world," Edelstein said. "A lot of these are venal, money-hungry people. They want the world to see them as noble, as liberal, as committed to social change. Now, to be fair, many of them are, but they choose the film that will best represent them."

As an example, Edelstein offered three films in competition for the best picture Oscar in 1982.

"I could argue that 'E.T.' and 'Tootsie' are a lot deeper, a lot more profound in what they say about the human condition, than 'Gandhi' is," he said. "But 'Gandhi's' the one with the Nobel Peace Prize."

Bernstein contends this year's slate of nominees reflect a cultural moment.

"You've got a lot of global movies: 'Babel,' 'Letters From Iwo Jima,' 'Flags of Our Fathers,' 'An Inconvenient Truth.' We're talking about issues. We're talking about politics. 'Blood Diamond' got a lot of nominations. This is not a happy-go-lucky year," she said.

A Matter of Genre

That's why it's hard for certain types of films and certain types of performances to win. Comedies and musicals are often runners-up. And critics loved the latest Bond film, "Casino Royale," but academy voters didn't.

"There is a good case for the fact that that is an extraordinary film that is a serious film in a lot of ways. It's a real movie," Edelstein said. "But do you think the academy would ever in a million years nominate a James Bond film? Forget it. It is not serious enough. They couldn't show their faces."

Films like "Chicago," which won for best picture in 2002, and 1998 best picture "Shakespeare in Love" are exceptions, each with its own X-factor.

"'Shakespeare in Love' had the Shakespeare, right?" Edelstein said. "It was a period film set in England with English actors, largely. … And 'Chicago' -- people were just really hungry for a musical. And [Miramax producer] Harvey Weinstein and Miramax just did crazy promotion, selling that movie so hard and still almost lost."

Passion or Politics?

When it comes right down to it, it's a secret ballot, and academy president Ganis says its members vote with their hearts.

He points to the fact that even industry favorites like Martin Scorsese -- five nominations, no statues -- can lose.

"I think we're all subject to emotion, or we wouldn't be able to vote for anything," Ganis said. "Yes, there's gonna be emotion in it, [but] it's still gonna be about the work."

Edelstein insists that politics is still the defining factor.

"There are so many hoops you have to jump through and so many different constituencies that you have to appeal to," he said. "You really do have to look at the Oscars not as a measure of artistic worth, but as a question of who is able to insinuate her or himself into the minds of this extremely select votership."